As said in the introduction, Geomorph is an
answer to my
own landscapes creation requirements. It is designed
progressively, when ideas of new landscapes ask for new tools.
Most landscapes ideas are derivated from memories or personal
experiences with some aesthetic feeling. Occasionally they come from
readings. For instance, research articles about the natural process of
brought me to create tools for generating dunes and ripples in version
0.3 of Geomorph. Desert scenes were imagined and created for tuning
these tools, and these tools were tuned for creating these scenes...
For those who know the Eric S. Raymond Essay, The
Cathedral and the Bazaar, Geomorph is not a cathedral, nor a
bazaar. It's both! I have a plan, quite well defined, but also quite
loose (not formally documented), which evolves from trials and
errors, discoveries, and feedback of users.
Through this half-planned, half-opportunistic roadmap, the
development of Geomorph follows some principles, which can be summed up
in this way:
Because of these principles, Geomorph's releases are relatively scarce.
I'm not so sure if the "Release early, release often" rule is always a
good thing. I test new tools a lot, first for bugs, then because I want
to be sure that the intended tasks can be done with them with some
comfort. Users won't keep using a program which crashes and is
- Provide functions for which defined results or tasks are
foreseen. The manner in which the tool would be used is imagined before
the tool is designed. Said differently, Geomorph is not only the
translation of a software concept, it is first of all the
translation of a usage model.
- Release new functions when they are usable for the
tasks. Avoid useless or non obvious dialogs, as possible. And avoid
crashes, even if the software is in its alpha stage. Strictly speaking,
an alpha program is not
complete, but it does not have to be buggy!
- Describe how to use the software in guides or tutorials.
a requirement for communicating the principles behind the usage model.
Geomorph is not a kind of software easy to grasp intuitively for most
like a word processor would be, for instance. The word processor
reproduces the paradigm of the typewriter, a program like Geomorph does
not reproduce any common paradigm. Describing the usage scenarios in
tutorials is also an excellent way to test the robustness of the
software and the purposfullness of the usage model.
I must also say that the Geomorph development and documentation are
mainly a hobby, between my family and a full-time job unrelated to the
creation of virtual landscapes.
Testing and documenting a program creates some kind of dialog between
the usage model and the program model. Each one improves from the
improvement of the other. Using the tools shows their limitations, I
improve them, I discover new way of using them, I improve the usage
model, which feeds the software model (the tools) and so on. This is a
feedback loop, a back and forth movement
between a deductive line of thought (from the software model towards
the usage model) and an inductive one (from the effective usage towards
the software model).
Said differently, by using the language of data modellers, this is a
back and forth play between a "top-down" approach and a "bottom-up"
approach. This is also the way scientific theories are built up, and I
don't think that software can be built up differently. This is the way
human beings learn.
Software development is not only an engineering undertaking, nor it is
an act of pure creativity or free-speech. A program is a built
artifact, and because of this, it shows some formal properties which
of interest to the mathematician, the engineer, the logician. But it is
also a text which communicates meanings and intellectual processes (a
program can be read and understood by human beings, even when it is too
buggy to run), and because of this it is an object of creativity and
free-speech, which is of interest for the philosopher, the
linguist, the psychologist, and maybe some artists. Finally, and
particularly, when it works, a
program is a system, a whole showing properties which cannot be
explained by looking at its parts. One of these properties is the
completeness (this word is not necessarily used in its formal meaning
here), which we feel when looking at something which seems at the same
time "complex", "well-balanced", and "simple". This property can be
shared by almost all products of the human mind, including the works of
art and the scientific theories. In my opinion, the ability which
allows us to detect this property is of the aesthetic kind.
For now, I design and program Geomorph alone. I'm also the main tester.
I got constructive comments from some users, which helped me to evolve
In the same way, all your comments are welcome: what is the main use of
the software for you, what tasks are difficult to perform with it, what
do you suggest, and so on.
I also got appreciated contributions from two German users, Tim
SchŘrmann, who translated the 0.22 version, and Simon Donike, who
continued the work for the 0.3 version. Simon also tested a lot the 0.3
version before its release and gave feedback about the html
I don't have a well-defined development model. I don't have "jobs" to
propose for now. However, I am glad to accept offers like those of Tim
and Simon. The main prerequisite: the Geomorph development should keep
on being fun. For that it must respect some conditions:
As far as I am concerned, I don't want to become a manager in the
traditional meaning of the word. It would become a "work" and I want
to keep this for my career, not for my hobbies.
- The work should be easy to distribute between contributors.
- A contributor should be autonomous, if not an expert, it
domain of contribution.
- We must agree on basic principles relevant to the intended
In this framework, some contributions are easier to integrate with the
project than others. Here are some possibilities, in an increasing
order of difficulty:
Other contribution opportunities can be foreseen in the future,
depending on how people will receive the next versions of Geomorph and
the development path it will follow. There could be "jobs", for
instance, for moderating and managing a forum, or for managing an
online database which could contain Povray textures or objects provided
by Geomorph users.
among the easiest contributions. The prerequisites are that you
understand the source language, that you understand very well how to
use Geomorph, and that you master the target language in its written
form. The source languages would be English or French for the
foreseeable future. For now I prefer to continue to publish in both
languages, because sometimes, I write first in English - even though my
English is not up to the level of my French, being my second language.
The translation of the software shouldn't be mixed up with the
translation of the web site. Translating the software amounts to
translating 400 to 500 words and phrases used in screen dialogs. These
strings are saved in a text file with the .po extension. The translator
should be able to understand these strings in their context, this is
he or she should be a good user of Geomorph. The translation of the web
site is a more risky undertaking. This is a lot of work, concerning
documents which evolve frequently.
would be welcomed
contributors. The web site and the screen dialogs would benefit from
external proof-reading, for clarity, quality, syntax, and so on. I
would particularily appreciate the contribution of English-speaking
under different Linux distributions and setups would also be a nice
contribution. Compiling, installing and using are the three main points
to test. The prerequisite are to be resourceful, to
persevere, and to be able to describe the problems encountered.
To perform compiling tests also requires some technical knowledge.
eventually predefined Povray scenes (which I call somewhere "scene
templates") are another contribution possibility. The prerequisites are
the knowledge of Povray and an eye for natural phenomenons, in order to
simulate natural textures with
improvement of install
scripts and the creation of packages for specific
(.rpm, .deb...) is another matter of contribution. I am not comfortable
with this part of the development process. Knowledgeable contributors
would be appreciated. Among the prerequisites, there is the knowledge
of scripting languages (bash, rpms "specs", and so on), of the target
distributions and of the compilation process.
interface with other
renderers. Geomorph works with Povray because
the renderer I knew when I started the project. The current Povray
version (3,6) in not free in the sense of the GPL. Free renderers
like Aqsis or
YafRay could be used in the future. One could contribute an interface
and predefined scenes or templates with these renderers, or others
unknown to me. However, a feasibilty and opportunity evaluation is
required for each rendered. When the renderer does not accept height
fields as images, but only meshes, using it would imply a conversion at
each run and would be awkward.
(designing and programming) is probably the most difficult
contribution, for the contributor and for me. Here I would insist more
on autonomy and knowledge. About the programming
part, some prerequisites are the knowledge of C and of the GTK library.
The programmer should also feel comfortable with my programming style
and the code structure, even if he / she doesn't totally endorse them.
A few words about this: I was cautious about the data and programs
structures. However, having worked outside of software development for
the last fifteen years or so, I probably developped an uncommon style,
unrelated to any specific developpers community. I don't know, either,
all the relevant standards (I found the GNU ones too long to read...).
However I would be very glad to have my code reread and criticized.
Anyway, if you want to explore this possibility of contribution, the
first step if to read the code! About the design of the software, there
are more than one aspects: think about the internal structures, the
interface, the tools, but also the science or craftmanship behind the
algorithms. Who knows, maybe some of you are geomorphology experts and
would like to feed me, if we can find a common language?
Written in September 2005